Thursday, January 19, 2006

Youth, alcohol and society

In Holland a serious discussion is at hand to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages to youth below the age of 18. Lately, the Health minister suggested he would move to submit such a proposal. The current age limit for alcohol and tobacco is 16. Initial response in parliament is hesitant.

I believe a downright prohibition for youth below the age of 18 is a very foolish proposal.

The use of alcohol by young people is a widely acknowledged issue across Europe. The Dutch youth according to recent statistics tops the bill. So, indications are that this phenomenon does indeed require our serious attention.

Among those who are hesitant about raising the legal age limit are people who stress that we are talking about a – substantial – minority of the youth, but certainly not all of them. Secondly, it would be counterproductive to simply penalize young people and not increase our efforts to take away whatever causes the apparent abuse.

In an unrelated news item, just a week ago or so, it was reported that our present society is all but sympathetic to our children. Our social life, and especially our way of life that affects the environment in which young people grow up, has become unfriendly, harsh, dictated by the needs and pre-occupations of the working generation, parents and so on, rather than geared to nourish and groom the younger generation.

True or not, the issues are not unrelated. It is always better – first of all – to look at the factors that drive a particular development, such as alcohol abuse, rather than cry wolf over its unwelcome effects. To many this must be obvious, but in our current political climate, with fear becoming more and more the key determinant of almost all policies, it is not so evident any more.

Dutch politics and political attitudes especially have grown more restrictive than they have been for many decades. It seems as if old rigidities have suddenly woken up after we put them to sleep some time ago when we took the road of deliberate permissiveness and liberalism.

Those days appear well past now. It is a liberal minister who wants to solve the issue by means of old-fashioned punishment!

We should all know that any kind of prohibition will only make things worse. It will simply add to the thrill of alcohol, nothing less.

It will be much better to step up our efforts to make our society more worthwhile for the young, increase their challenges, commit them to change, involve them in our world, and allow them to enjoy it at the same time.

Abuse never came out of such dedication.


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9:45 PM  

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